German Sergeant serving in Royal Marines 1797-1814

Home Forums Nautical Research: 1500 – 1830 German Sergeant serving in Royal Marines 1797-1814

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    Clare D

      Hi, I am new here and excited to join this group that I didn’t know existed until today!

      I am doing research into Ferdinand Propsting, a German man who served aboard HMS Acasta and HMS Albion as a sergeant in the Royal Marines (I am unsure yet if he served on any other ships).

      I have found Greenwich Out-Pensioner records for him suggesting he served for over 18 years and was wounded in both hands (I don’t know yet in what capacity he was wounded). My main problem is that on the muster rolls for HMS Acasta it confirms that he was born in Germany and on the 1841 census when he lived in Barnet, it notes that he was ‘born of foreign parts’. HMS Acasta is the earliest possible detail I can find for him (signed onto HMS Acasta in April 1797 at Chatham headquarters at the age of 28). There doesn’t seem to be any exact matches for a Ferdinand/Frederick Propsting (or Propstring) on German birth records either.

      1. I was wondering how a German would come to be serving with the marines and his likely route to the UK?

      2. Is it likely he had already had a military career in Germany before coming to the UK as he was 28 and already a sergeant in 1797?

      3. Was it possible that there were positions for marines that meant he could stay ashore?

      Thank you for any help!

      David Hepper

        I am no expert on the Marines at all, but in response to your first question, I believe that it was not unusual for German citizens to be serving at this time. I presume because the King was also still the Elector of Hanover.
        The Attestation papers are revealing. They are forms that marines completed, confirming or attesting, that they were willing to serve anywhere. I don’t think all survive, but those that do can be seen If you check using the Discovery on the National Archives –

        And type in Germany for the word you wish to find – with search references ADM 157 and ADM 158 – you will find over 200 German nationals in the Marines

        Don’t forget that the British Army had a German regiment, the Kings German Legion, serving at the time. See:

        Sam Willis

          Some interesting replies on our FB page:

          Ric Smith: ‘The Royal Marines have plenty
          Of records at the public Records Office at Kew. The other place to try is the Royal Navy Museum at Portsmouth where the records from the Royal Marine Barracks went to upon its closure.’

          Emma Cooper: ‘Just found some pension info through Find My Past. If you use the name Propstring, he was an outpensioner from 19 May 1814 (No 1372) then briefly in Greenwich Hospital before becoming an out pensioner again from 26 Aug. 1836 (No 3035). Slight warning with ‘Find My Past’ – if their records are split into left-hand and right-hand pages….. they are not always in the right sequence. There was a reference (ADM 96) which said that he was a CHATHAM marine.’

          Found a few German marines…..Plymouth ADM 158/239 –

          You must be logged in to view attached files.
          Nicholas Blake

            Marines and Royal Marines did serve ashore. From 1755 they were established in three divisions, at Chatham, Portsmouth, and Plymouth. Their duties included providing guards for the barracks and the dockyard, and at Haslar Naval Hospital; assisting the civile authorities to suppress riots and disturbances; and recruitment and training.

            Keith H

              Leaving aside his country of birth for now, you need to lock down what you know, so you have a framework.

              That we are currently aware, he served for eighteen years, and became a recipient of an out-pension in May 1814. This would imply that he enlisted 1795/96. In latter years, he was a Chatham Division marine.

              When a former Royal Marine applied for a pension, proof of service was required. This was simple enough. A clerk would look in the Description Book and the Discharge Book. Using these, the clerk’s attestation would confirm the latter Division (“home port” in essence) and the years they had served. Unfortunately, the Chatham Division’s discharge book do not cover a chunk of 1814 and 1815, if I remember rightly. Somewhat ironically, there was a peak in discharges, as the Royal Marines establishment went back to a peacetime level of headcount/resourcing, the first reduction taking place with effect from 17 August 1814. You may well be lucky in finding an entry for him, so it is still worth looking into:

              It would appear that he is in one of the surviving description books at Kew. This will give you the key details about him that he provided at attestation. Going forwards a century, if a Royal Marine were to desert, this sort of detail was reproduced in the Police Gazette, to assist in tracking down deserters!

              ADM 158/24
              Chatham Division

              ADM 158/25
              Chatham Division

              The Greenwich in-Pension and out-Pension records that have been digitised are of some use in getting the outline of a Royal Marine’s career.

              For the granular detail, you need to jump between their shore subsistence records (series ADM 96) and the ship musters (ADM 37, ADM 35 etc). When on shore, they were billeted with men on the same shore company number. When a Marine was promoted or demoted, they were reallocated to a different company number. The company number is usually on the ship muster.

              Depending upon time served, there were three classes of Royal Marine. The third class was those whose service was less than seven years, second class was between seven and fourteen years, and first class was service in excess of fourteen years.

              Someone well-meaning has suggested contacting a museum. Even if they had the resources to spend time on research, they won’t have anything extra in their inventory. The details you require are at Kew, be it the shore subsistence sheets or the ship musters.

              Best of luck with your research

              Keith H

                My mistake.
                It looks like he was admitted as an in-Pensioner in spring 1836, and discharged in the summer. Presumably the rules were not to his liking, or there was a change of his circumstances.
                Royal Hospital Greenwich – Rules in 1853

                Keith H

                  What I now know is that you have sourced the entirety of your information from online sources. The fact of the matter is that this is an analogue exercise, and that either you or a third party will need to be at The National Archives UK Kew, to physically view the records.

                  The lion’s share of what you need has not been digitised, nor is this likely to happen any time soon.

                  To recap, what do we know from FMP:

                  When he was awarded an out-Pension in 1815 (archive reference ADM 6/276) along with an out-Pensioner number of 17922.

                  His out-Pension payment ledger from 1836 (archive reference ADM 22/410) does state his duration of service was 18 years, 5 months, 3 weeks and 2 days in total. He served in “1DRM” which summarises that he was in Chatham Division.

                  On 5 May 1836, he applied to become an in-Pensioner. He does not appear to have been successful, so would have remained an out-Pensioner. This is borne out by the information from WO 22 and ADM 22.

                  The HMS Acasta ship muster (possibly the ADM 37 series) image tells us that he embarked on 16 April 1797. He accrued pay for the months of November and December, the year is not apparent. The purser has neglected to record his shore company number, but it confirms that he embarked from Chatham Division headquarters.

                  Although he appears on the 1841 Census, these details are sparse, and the age is often rounded to within five years. It advises whether English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish or Foreigner, but no specific place names.

                  The names of all Royal Marines on the shore subsistence sheets for 1810 have been transcribed by Kevin Asplin. This tells us that he appears in a box of sheets, containing the records for the 1st to the 25th company, covering all four quarters. The archive reference is ADM 96/295. Given that he is a Chatham marine, he is in one of the following companies:
                  1st, 4th, 7th, 10th, 13th, 16th, 19th, 22nd, 25th
                  Royal Marine companies and their parent Divisions
                  The shore subsistence sheets will document how long he was on shore. If he was on shore for part of the year, it will tell you the incoming ship that he disembarked, and also the outgoing ship that he embarked.

                  Kevin is probably the most experienced person in the country at researching Royal Marines of the Napoleonic Wars. His Victorian research has been recognised by an Award of Merit from the Orders & Medals Research Society. I am not sure if he is still a professional researcher, and could undertake the research for a fee.

                  The Greenwich out-Pensioner and Chelsea out-Pensioner variance analysis records (archive reference WO) tell us that he died at Barnet on 27 February 1850. This is corroborated by the GRO index of BMD (births, marriages, deaths). The index for Q1 1850 records the death of “Frederick Propsting”, volume 6, page 334 in the Barnet registration district in the county of Middlesex. You can obtain a copy of his birth certificate for a small fee, via the GRO website.

                  The following, although old in content, does make up a significant chunk of “Researching your Royal Marine ancestors”, and is worth a read by anyone looking to research a Royal Marine.
                  Records of the Non-Commissioned Ranks of the Royal Marines

                  Keith H

                    The following may be of interest, but I would take anything found on the internet with a hefty pinch of salt, until the claims have been corroborated against reliable sources.

                    Two observations here:

                    1. If he had been at the Battle of the Nile, I would have anticipated that he would have made an application for a medal prior to his death.
                    2. Although it appears he has taken to styling himself as “Von Propsting”, it appears unlikely to me that a member of the germanic landed gentry, with a “Von” prefix, would serve as an NCO, and then become a butcher in peacetime.

                    Ferdinand Von Propsting (abt. 1765 – 1849)

                    Anna Maria (Bispham) Propsting (1784 – 1868)

                    It would appear the family line has continued down under in Tasmania.

                    Keith H

                      Ed Seufert is a reenactor. He does reenactments of the Royal Marines on the Chesapeake in 1814. He has a FB page that may be of interest. During the War of 1812 bicentennial, he was making various posts. The group can be followed here:


                      You can get an idea from the reenactment photos of what the Royal Marines would have looked like.

                      Of particular interest

                      On 25 Sept 1810, orders were issued to the divisions to provide companies of 80 rank & file (including 10 foreigners who must be German) with the proper proportion of Sergeants and Drummers, These men were to be selected from the steadiest and best disciplined. Each company would have 1 Captain and 2 Lieutenants for active service ashore.

                      These battalions were to be formed from the best of the Royal Marine naval infantry. They were later disbanded after the War of 1812.

                      In 1814, the “peace dividend” had an impact upon the manpower of the Royal Marines

                      With the first abdication of Napoleon in April 1814, orders had been issued to start reducing the Marine ranks with various discharges and having senior officer retire on full pay. All this while the Royal Navy maintains forces fighting in America!
                      The discharges ordered in June 1814:
                      1. All Foreigners
                      2. All sick, inform, and those likely to become so
                      3. All men over forty years of age
                      4. All men under 5 ft. 3 1/2 inches in height
                      5. All undisciplined drummers
                      In September 1814, the Admiralty had ordered the Royal Marine establishment to consist of 120 companies. At its height, the establishment had consisted of 183 companies.

                      Keith H

                        Some details on a contemporary

                        A Spaniard from Barcelona had a name akin to Carlos Mahou. This was anglicised at Charles Maheux. He enlisted at Portsmouth Headquarters on 24 September 1796. He was an agricultural labourer from Catalonia, 25 years old. He was 5 feet 9 inches in height. He had brown hair, hazel coloured eyes and a fresh complexion. He was assigned to the 11th Company.
                        Source: Archive reference ADM 158/151, Portsmouth Division’s Description Book for men surname M, covering 1771-1814.

                        He was promoted to Corporal after only 3 months, and was promoted to Sergeant in 1798. This seems a meteoric rise to me, just like your family member Propsting. Was there an expansion of the Royal Navy, and the Royal Marines in particular at the end of the 1790s?

                        Charles Mayeaux was among the Royal Marine complement aboard HMS Dragon. As part of a landing party, he died on 22 June 1814 after being pursued by American militia cavalry, trying to escape from captivity.

                        There is an account of this in American newspapers, and the Canadian historian Donald E Graves has taken an interest in the story:

                        My notes advise If you look at The Naval History of Great Britain, Volume 6 by William James, it mentions this incident, albeit with a very different interpretation of events to what is portrayed in the American newspaper!

                        What I find to be of greater significance with Mahou and Propsting is this: literacy levels on warships were higher than in society in general. In order to have been promoted to a non-commissioned officer, a basic level of literacy in reading and writing in English, which is not their mother tongue, was a pre-requisite.

                        Regarding foreigners in the Royal Navy, I think this was pretty common. Without recourse to sources, I think that a person of any nationality could enlist in the Royal Marines. I believe it similar for the Royal Navy. The shortage of skilled sailors had resulted in the policy of press-ganging. One of the tugboats used in WW1 was named after Dominick Addison, a French sailor in the Royal Navy. The Ayshford roll has 68 Frenchmen and 212 Germans at Trafalgar.

                        You would do well to read the following book to get a feel for life at sea with the Royal Navy in the age of sail:
                        Jack Tar: Life in Nelson’s Navy
                        Roy & Lesley Adkins

                        I got the impression that some ships were cultural melting pots, with a very diverse complement, and a variety of circumstances as to how they ended up in the Royal Navy.

                        The records of the out-Pensioners and in-Pensioners are likely to throw up a fair few non-Britons.

                        Keith H
                          Keith H

                            I want to pick up on something mentioned at the start, and to revisit some comments I have made

                            I am doing research into Ferdinand Propsting, a German man who served aboard HMS Acasta and HMS Albion as a sergeant in the Royal Marines (I am unsure yet if he served on any other ships)… he served for over 18 years… Was it possible that there were positions for marines that meant he could stay ashore?

                            My interpretation of what you are asking:

                            1. You have determined that he served for over eighteen years, and that he served on two ships at least.
                            2. You have been led to assume that all the records are digitised and available via searching FMP. Given that only two ships have been identified, the inference is that the gaps must have been spent on shore.

                            Doing the research on a Royal Marine is hard work. It is tedious, manual and time-consuming, as you bounce between two sets of paper records.

                            The records that have survived, like many items in the archive, were retained for legal and accounting reasons. Subsequent requests for assistance from Royal Hospital Greenwich would have been the reason for the retention of many Admiralty records, now stored at Kew in a variety of archives series with the prefix ADM.

                            Service records for Royal Marines, with a linear statement of service, whereby each line item records time spent onshore or aboard a given vessel, from date x to date y, did not commence until 1870, and are in the ADM 159 series. They did not record service prior to this year. As already stated, a former marine’s Division would provide a statement based upon when they enlisted and when they were discharged.

                            Whilst I have a lot of experience regarding naval and military genealogy, although you need the service framework that a service record provides, I find it bland. The interesting part is determining the battles in which a given warship or army unit actually participated in, and this can be quite challenging.

                            The late Paul Benyon (1940-2019) created a website with an index of ships, and in a lot of cases he has added places and dates of where ships were, as derived from the Naval Chronicle. His site has been hosted by Rootsweb following his demise. It is a readily available resource that gives some interesting pointers. Given that he did not provide an inline citation, it can be difficult to determine the original source of the information.

                            Based upon what Paul has gathered about HMS Albion, it would appear that prior to its arrival in North America in September 1813, to participate in the War of 1812 thereafter, this is when Propsting would have served aboard HMS Albion.
                            HMS Albion – pbenyon’s index

                            Keith H

                              When a former Royal Marine’s service was verified, upon applying for a pension, it was straightforward. The clerks of the Royal Marine division concerned would consult the books, and send a written confirmation, as mentioned previously.

                              It was different for sailors, who were effectively freelancers. When a ship paid off, the sailor was discharged from that service, and received a sizeable payout of back pay. (The Adkins book is worth reading, in this regard.) They would spend the money in a short amount of time. They would be financially motivated to go to sea once more.

                              Given that sailors did not have “continuous service”, this was a challenge administratively. When applying for a pension, the sailor would provide the names of the ships on which they had sailed. The clerks would then access the old ship muster books, and would manually compile the statement of service for that sailor. There is more detail about this in the following:

                              Tracing Your Naval Ancestors (2003)
                              Authored by Bruno Pappalardo
                              Bloomsbury Publishing
                              ISBN 978-1-90-336537-3

                              The good news for modern day genealogists is that if you are researching a sailor who was in receipt of a pension, in most cases their statement of service has survived. These are in the ADM 29 series of documents at Kew.

                              From 1853, sailors were provided with an Official Number, akin to a soldier’s regimental service number, and a record of the sailor’s Continuous Service was kept. These are in the ADM 139 series of documents at Kew.

                              From 1873, a sailor’s statement of service was recorded on a page. These continued until 1928. These are in the ADM 188 series of documents at Kew.

                              From 1929 onwards, each sailor now had a Continuous Record card (form 415?). (Similarly, Royal Marines had their details recorded on a Form R.102 or R.23) For older sailors, these cards are in the ADM 363 series of documents at Kew. for the younger sailors, these are still held by the Ministry of Defence.

                              You may wonder why I have mentioned the record-keeping practices in subsequent years.

                              At the end of 1941, the clerks stopped updating the cards in many cases, with the info being recorded in pay and victualling (P&V) ledgers. If you apply for a service record today, it could well be the case that, like 200 years ago, the statement of service of a rating of the Royal Navy is compiled in a table. You receive a copy of the card, and also the manually compiled statement of service.

                              Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!

                              Whilst the clerks were kept busy on an ongoing basis 200 years ago, they experienced a new spike in workload when the Naval General Service Medal was announced in 1848, with each claim needing to be verified against ship musters. In excess of 20,000 claimants applied.

                              Keith H

                                Service records for Royal Marines, with a linear statement of service, whereby each line item records time spent onshore or aboard a given vessel, from date x to date y, did not commence until 1870, and are in the ADM 159 series. They did not record service prior to this year. As already stated, a former marine’s Division would provide a statement based upon when they enlisted and when they were discharged.

                                This is not quite right. The registers of service were introduced by the Portsmouth Division of Royal Marines at the end of 1884. Official numbers 1 to 3146 were retrospectively issued during December 1884 to infantrymen of the Portsmouth Division. There will be some details retrospectively recorded in the register of service.

                                The following is of interest

                                7. In 1884 two major improvements were made. Firstly, official numbers were allocated by Divisions E.G there were four men with the number 100. They were CH/100, PO/100, PLY/100 and RMA/100. Secondly, Registers of Service were introduced. In these each man’s record of service occupies a full page showing his full service history (ships, units, promotions, medals etc.) They are arranged in sequence of official numbers. The Corps Records Officer holds a manuscript alphabetical index to the Registers Of Service.

                                8. Registers of Service are continuous and complete from 1884 to the present day.

                                Royal Marines Records Trace Of Individuals – PRO memo written August 1992 – via YourArchives

                                Keith H

                                  He is on the out-Pensioner payment listing for 1815 and 1816, archive reference ADM 22/270, link below can be accessed if you are a FMP subscriber.

                                  This is useful, insofar as it tells us that he was subsisted on shore with 22nd Company, at the time he was discharged from the Royal Marines in May 1814.

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